The Dream Bear

I wanted to share this watercolor I commissioned from Noel Arthur Heimpel, creator of the webcomic Ignition Zero. (Check out his Tumblr to see some of his other commissions.)

Noel’s art reminds me a lot of Bill Sienkiewicz’s at times, so I asked him to do a riff on Bill’s demon bear from the classic Claremont/Sienkiewicz “Demon Bear Saga” in New Mutants 18-21. I really like the results, especially how the bear is exhaling the Aurora Borealis.

I’ve had the digital image for a while now (he works fast!) but I just got the original in the mail, which reminded me I needed to share this. The original looks great; I have to get a nice frame for it. And now I’m tempted to commission a bigger piece. Hmmm, wonder what Noel’s take on the entire New Mutants team would be? Amara and Warlock in particular would look amazing, I bet. And Rahne in werewolf form. And Cannonball’s fire-trail. And Sunspot! Hmmmmm, this sounds like a good idea! (Yes, although it is 2012, I may in fact be stuck mentally in the late 80s/early 90s, my “formative” years.)

Which reminds me, why do I call this piece the Dream Bear if I asked for “a giant spirit demon bear” (my exact commission request)? Around the same time I was reading that classic New Mutants run, I was listening to a lot of Yes, and every time Long Distance Runaround played, I heard the line “I still remember the dream there” as, “I still remember the dream bear,” and pictured Sienkiewicz’s demon bear. Now I basically accept my version as the proper lyric.

Anyhoo, if you’re looking to commission a cool watercolor, I recommend Noel. His commission information can be found here. (Oh! I just noticed it says to not ask him to draw animals. Whoops. Well, I think the bear looks great. Sorry, Noel!)

Fiction Friday: 6/1/12

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Fiction Friday is here again, and here is what I have been up to, fiction-wise. (Note: I’m still reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312. It’s somewhat slow-going for me at the moment.)

Aurum (short story)

In “Aurum,” by Genevieve Valentine, steampunk and fantasy mix in a world of airships and dragons. In the world of this story, dragons and humans co-exist in a truce of sorts, with dragons lending out money from their hoards if they feel like it, but rarely adventuring out into the greater world. Brandon, a human and the architect of a new type of airship, needs to borrow some hoard money to complete his project, but is surprised when Regia, the dragon who lends it, also demands passage on the ship as part of her terms. Like other short stories I have read and enjoyed lately (Ken Liu’s Nebula Award-winning “The Paper Menagerie,” and Brent Knowles’ “Stone Eater,” for instance), it is the emotional content of this story that most intrigued me. What I thought would be an adventure tale turns out to be more of a story about internal motivations, and this ended up being a much more powerful basis for the story. Give “Aurum” a read in Issue 42 of Abyss & Apex.

Very Near Mint (graphic novel)

Very Near Mint, by Justin Peterson, is a comic book about two guys running a comic book store, which I discovered through the Kickstarter for its second volume. In Volume One, Colin and Sam, proprietors of The Splash Page, have to deal with their shipment of new comics being destroyed in a car crash, teaching a new employee the ropes of running a comic book store, and the return of Colin’s ex-girlfriend, Mackenzie. Worse than all that, though, is the opening of a mega-store across the street from The Splash Page. The aptly-named Across the Street Comics promises to put Colin and Sam out of business. The comedy and drama continue to unfold in Volume Two, as the identity of Colin and Sam’s nemesis is revealed.

There is a lot of humor in here, especially if you are a comic-book fan who can laugh at yourself, because Very Near Mint pokes endless fun of that world (the fans, the stores, the Cons, and the comics themselves). The comic convention in Volume Two especially had me nodding my head at how right-on the depiction is, even down to the smell of a Con. I definitely recommend these volumes if you’re a comic-book fan or know someone who is. They are available in manga-sized softcovers and in digital form at the Very Near Mint Store.

Delilah Dirk and the Seeds of Good Fortune (comic book)

Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk and the Seeds of Good Fortune is the comic book sequel to the webcomic Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. Let me stop here and say if you have not read The Turkish Lieutenant, get thee hence. It marries amazing artwork, lush, beautiful scenery, fantastic characters, and a rollicking good story, and I can’t wait until there is an English-language graphic novel version available.

Unlike the full-color Turkish Lieutenant, Seeds of Good Fortune is in black-and-white and is only available as a physical comic book. Given the chance to read more Delilah Dirk adventures, however, I will pretty much go wherever Tony leads me. Plus this way I got a sketch and personalized dedication, which is nice. In Seeds, both world-traveler Delilah and former lieutenant Selim are back, although Selim is present only on either end of the main story (the part he plays is integral, though). You see, Selim sends Delilah off on her adventure with some fresh-picked apples. Thoughtful, but it turns out they don’t taste all that great. Selim’s simple kindness ends up playing a pivotal role in Delilah’s ensuing (mis)adventures. ddapple2
The art is, as expected, superb, from facial expressions to action sequences to the architecture and scenery, to the Family Circus-esque two-page spread in the middle of the book. The characters and story are likewise great, especially the scenes between Delilah and the rope merchant. (I think it’s fair to say this story hinges on apples and rope. How often do you get to say that?) Unless you catch Tony at a convention, the only way to pick up a copy of Seeds is through his online store. With shipping it is a bit pricey for a 32-page comic, but as an investment in convincing Tony to produce more tales Delilah and Selim? Priceless.

The Case of the Misplaced Hero (serial)

Since I started writing my own serial adventure not that long ago, I have been on the lookout for other serials to read, and one I am enjoying right now is Camille LaGuire’s The Case of the Misplaced Hero. It is the story of Alex, whose mysterious and wealthy parents died when he was young, leaving him in the care of his eccentric great-aunt Flavia. Now Alex is in college, a perpetual student who fails classes in order to stay in school.

The story doesn’t take long in hinting that Alex will end up on an adventure in an alternate reality. Heck, it’s hinted at in the first episode and alluded to in the title of the series, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by mentioning it. I am a big fan of alternate reality stories, whether it is in TV shows like Fringe, comic books like Excalibur, or books such as Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series, so Misplaced Hero seemed like a natural fit for me. Given its premise, I admit that the first few episodes had me a little concerned about how long into the story it would be before Alex stops messing around in college and got to adventuring in the world next door. Luckily, by Episode 5, the story takes a turn for the speculative once again, and at two episodes a week, it wasn’t all that long to get there after all.  The story is still in its early days, so now is a good time to get on board and follow Alex through the looking glass.

Up Next

Sunday: Part 16 of The Only City Left, my own SF/F serial action-adventure story. In Part 16, Allin’s flashback to the time of his parents’ death continues.

Webcomics Wednesday: Each Wednesday I review some of the wonderful long-form webcomics that are out there. Not familiar with webcomics? Think comic books by passionate independent creators, released for free on the web. Have a look at my Links page for a list of the ones I am currently reading.

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Photo Credits: Header photo of books (cropped), courtesy of Stewart on Flickr.

Webcomics Wednesday: 5/30/12

There are a lot of webcomics out there. I read ‘em, and if I like ‘em, they end up here. This week I’m talking about Clockworks and Spine.

Clockworks

Clockworks, by Shawn Gaston, is self-described as “a steampunk/fantasy story, set in a world of giant stompy robots, outlawed magic, forgotten and dangerous old gods, ether driven mad science, and goggle wearing heroes who travel the world in search of danger and adventure.” Sounds good! It is also based on Shawn’s actual RPG sessions where he is running a home-brew campaign using the Savage Worlds RPG. Sounds… scary. Why scary? Well, everyone pretty much thinks their RPG sessions would make a great story. Not many RPG sessions actually make great stories, in my experience. So I had some reservations going in.

For the most part, I am glad to say that I needn’t have worried. For one thing, the artwork goes a long way toward making any worries I might have had disappear. The characters look dashing and cool in their steampunk gear, and the city feels gritty and fantastic, with its true immensity only hinted at so far. I really dig the scenes in which characters are tiny silhouettes hopping up and over buildings as they chase or are chased.

There are some clever nods to the RPG world. The main characters are Private Constables who patrol their neighborhood fighting crime that the National Police are not interested in. Private Constables/Player Characters, get it? Oh well, I thought it was funny. There is also a flashback story told by one of the character’s grandfathers about a similar group of adventurers that he used to be a part of, and as Shawn says in the comments, “those guys scream Group Of Player Characters.” That’s okay for me, though. Any group of diverse characters in a team (The Avengers, anyone?) can scream group of Player Characters, since they usually serve specific roles in the larger group.

Where the RPG origins betray the story a bit is in the formula of bad things happen-PCs find clue(s)/trap(s)-PCs confront bad guy(s)-PC is injured and healed by mage-bad guy is taken down-repeat. The healing magic, especially, removes much of the sense of peril from the comic. Perhaps a main character might die if the human player behind them leaves the group, but I suspect most every main character is safe.

In the end, I got past this concern and just enjoyed the story for the fun, steampunk action-adventure that it is. Okay, so maybe our heroes will always survive the impossible odds stacked against them. As long as they adventure in style, I’m in for the long haul.

Spine

Spine, by Cihan Sesen, is a dystopian action-adventure story that mostly focuses on the exploits of the pseudonymous assassin, Spine. The art and story styles remind me of issues of Heavy Metal that I used to read when I was a kid (borrowed from my older brother). As with them, I don’t always understand what the hell is going on in Spine or where the story is going, but I enjoy the journey. In that, and its dystopian themes, it reminds me a bit of Derelict, although the world of Spine feels much more populated than the lonely world of Derelict.

So who is Spine? She is a daredevil assassin with a spiffy pair of goggles that give her a detailed view of the world around her. She is also a baker who works for some sort of covert organization called the Bakery, which is simultaneously a collection of chefs and a socio-political power. I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s fun. The third, and current, chapter of Spine is a flashback to Spine’s origin. It breaks from the high-flying action to tell a more touching family story, and in that ends up being more powerful than the previous chapters.

The world of Spine is one of fossil fuel shortages, raised coastlines due to global warming, and warring world powers. The tech level very much feels like a conglomeration of whatever can be scavenged from the old world, as when Spine is chased by a fleet of converted Beetles. (That sequence is a blast, by the way.) The one truly high-tech device present in the story appears to be the Sundrive that everyone is hunting for, a device that can supply unlimited power.

Cihan’s art has a very rough, loose feel to it, which fits the story well. Most pages in the first two chapters have a predominant color theme for the page. Interestingly, Chapter 3 feels markedly different from the previous chapters, both in the use of cleaner, thicker lines and more colors. Whether this is a natural progression in Cihan’s art or a specific choice for the flashback, time (and more pages) will tell.

Spine, the assassin and the webcomic, is violent, as you might suspect, so if messy deaths aren’t your thing, be warned. I think the action scenes are fun, the world has piqued my interest, and Chapter 3 adds depth to Spine’s story that promises that this will be more than a simple assassin-killing-people type action adventure thriller.

Quick Hits

Ellie on Planet X: What does Jeff look like in full-color? Well, like Jeff, only better.

The Doom That Came To Sarnath, Page 4: Wow. Amazing details on this page. And I am sure that these humans will suffer no repercussions for their actions….

Everblue: I may suffer from a cuteness overload thanks to Luna and Ten. And it’s going to be twice a week again soon, so I’m in even more danger.

Up Next on Lithicbee

Friday: Oh heck, I think I’ll stick with my Fiction Friday theme for the time being. More about what I’ve been reading and enjoying lately outside of the world of webcomics.

Sunday: Part 16 of The Only City Left, my own SF/F serial action-adventure story. In Part 16, Allin’s flashback to the time of his parents’ death continues.

Fiction Friday: 5/25/12

It is time for another edition of Fiction Friday, that travelogue of my journeys through the fictional realms. So where have I been and where am I going? Let’s take a look.

Blackbirds (novel)

I finished Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig last week. In case you haven’t heard of it, here’s the quick rundown: Miriam Black is a troubled young drifter who, with a skin-to-skin touch, can see your future. Specifically, the moments of your death. When the novel begins, Miriam is using this ability to live day-to-day, arriving at the moment of someone’s death and stealing enough cash and credit from them to get her to the next soon-to-be stiff. She quickly gets in over her head in a story about death, Fate, and violence. Lots and lots of violence.

The violence level got to me, I’ll admit. Miriam, for all she is a strong female lead, spends much of the book getting beaten up. Yes, she gives as good as she gets, but the violence level definitely slowed down my reading speed on this book. Balancing that is the fact that Chuck’s writing and plotting is compelling, so whenever I put the book down because I was wincing too much at what Miriam was going through, I ended up picking it back up to find out what happens next. Also, Chuck’s writing is, for lack of a better word, cool. He wields similes like scimitars and uses a distinctive, world-weary voice that is much closer in tone to his tweets and blog posts than the hammy, pulpy goodness of Dinocalypse Now (which I reviewed in an earlier Fiction Friday post, and which I enjoyed thoroughly.)

Do I recommend Blackbirds? Yes, with a caveat that if dark, violent fare is not your thing, you might want to stay away or at least steel yourself for it before reading. You can pick up Blackbirds at Amazon or DRM-free direct from the publisher.

Nightside on Callisto (short story)

I found Linda Nagata’s short story, “Nightside on Callisto,” at Lightspeed Magazine. It is set in a future where some sort of digital plague called the Red has infected all the humans on Earth, leaving only those humans who are living farther out in the solar system free to fight back against it. The story focuses on a team of four older women who are setting up an ice-mining operation on the Jovian moon, Callisto, to supply the free humans with water. This is a dangerous operation, which is why these tough-but-expendable women were sent to do it. The mission wasn’t supposed to be this dangerous, though.

I liked that the story was packed with all sorts of neat technologies, had good action scenes, and a satisfying, non-kicker ending.

The Paper Menagerie (short story)

I must admit I have never much paid attention to the various SF/F awards out there; I just read what sounds good to me. However, I saw this list of winners and nominees for the Nebula Awards, so I thought I’d check it out. I decided to read the winner in the short story category, Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie,” which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2011.

Wow, The Paper Menagerie is one emotional powerhouse of a story. It is about a half-Chinese/half-American boy who grows increasingly embarrassed about his Chinese immigrant mother. I admit I was a bit choked up by the end. I do find it interesting that the story contains only the barest element of magical realism. That element is vital to the story, but it is not what springs to my mind when I think of a story that would belong in a science-fiction/fantasy magazine. Ouch. I can feel my horizons being broadened. Now I’m going to have to read the other nominees in the short story category to see what else I have been missing out on.

2312 (novel)

I picked up 2312, the latest by Kim Stanley Robinson, on its release date and will have a review up once I finish it. I am 10% in (per my Kindle), and so far it is reminding me of his Mars trilogy, which is my favorite of his works. (In second place, The Years of Rice and Salt.) As usual, I have trouble getting my head around some of the science, but it is balanced with interesting characters and a mystery to pull me past the parts that make my brain melt.

Up Next on Lithicbee

Sunday: Part 15 of my SF/F serial adventure, The Only City Left.

Webcomics Wednesday: Each Wednesday I review some of the wonderful long-form webcomics that are out there. Not familiar with webcomics? Think comic books by passionate independent creators, released for free on the web. Check them out!

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Photo Credits:

Header photo of rare books (cropped), courtesy of Amelia-Jane on Flickr.

Cover of Blackbirds from the publisher, Angry Robot.

Image of Callisto via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of NASA.

Origami animals image courtesy of Jetske19 on Flickr.

Fiction Friday: 5/11/12

For today’s Fiction Friday, I have a graphic novel adaptation, a novel that mixes gambling with magic, and a cyberpunk short story.

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories

I have mentioned it more than once before, so now it is time for my full review of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories, Jason Bradley Thompson’s adaptation of dream-related stories by H.P. Lovecraft. I was very excited to get my hands on this graphic novel and it certainly lived up to my expectations.

Immediately inside the cover is a wonderful map of H.P. Lovecraft’s dream realms that I am tempted to use as the basis of the next RPG I run (someday, someday). This is followed by the short stories “The White Ship,” “Celephais,”, and “The Strange High House in the Mist,” and the main attraction, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.”

The illustration is black and white and intricately detailed, with each panel filled to the brim with details both mundane and fantastic. Each story except for “Strange High House” involves the main character entering the dream realms. Once there, the dreamer is represented as a simplistic “mock man,” a simplistic, cartoony character with a large flat face, expressive eyes, and knobbed sticks for hands and feet. This is a neat way to set the dreamer apart from the fantastic world they are adventuring in; at a glance, you always know where the dreamer is in any given panel.

Jason’s architecture is a strong point. His dream realms are filled with incredible, gargantuan cities with building stacked upon building, spires, statues, domes, minarets, and residences both grand and decrepit. Likewise, the inhabitants of the dream realm are well thought-out and -depicted, from ordinary human inhabitants to divine and semi-divine beings to the slimy-faced, turbaned merchants whose wide, crooked-lipped smile succeeds in evoking menace and disgust. There are also monsters galore, with ghouls, gugs, night-gaunts, and plenty of tentacled, slobbering nightmare creatures.  And let’s not forget the cats. I’m a sucker for well-drawn talking cats, and the adventurous kitties in these pages add just the right light touch to some dark proceedings.

I think the best parts of the GN are when Jason is filling in background details that are not part of the original text, for here you can really see his imagination at work and how he did not skimp on any page. There is a two-page spread (pgs 20-21) of Kuranes searching for the dream-city Celephais that includes panels of him searching through industrial-looking wreckage, having tea with a dragon, speaking to birds big and small, fleeing monsters up a spiral staircase, and standing on a flying carpet, to name a few of the scenes, all on a page that evokes a Candyland-ish journey through the dream realms. In the center of the page is the actual human dreamer, at the same time asleep in bed and part of a mountainous landscape. Some of these scenes are suggested in the original text, but most are not. It shows the care with which Jason decided when to narrate straight from the stories, and when he let the art speak for itself.

To sum up: great art and a wonderful adaptation of some classic H.P. Lovecraft stories: what more could you ask for?

Vegas Knights

Matt Forbeck’s Vegas Knights is a book I had to read once I saw its premise of magic users in Las Vegas, because it’s a story that’s been plaguing my mind ever since I first drove away from the city of sin with no money in my pockets. With each visit, I would entertain the same daydream: What if I could have used magic to tilt the odds in my favor? Vegas Knights answers that question.

It is the story of Jackson and Bill, two college students who have learned enough magic to get themselves in trouble with it, and who decide to make some money at the blackjack table by using their magic to make sure they are dealt the cards they need. Whenever I thought of writing this story, I would get stuck at the next logical point: if you can use magic to cheat in Vegas, you can be sure that the casinos use magic, too, and they won’t look kindly on your activities when they catch you. Needless to say, Matt did not let that be a sticking point; rather it is the starting point for Jackson and Bill’s excellent adventure. The story spirals out from there as these two college boys experience the highs and lows of Vegas life and learn what’s underneath the surface and who’s really in charge of Vegas.

Vegas Knights ends up being a fun adventure story with a surprisingly personal through-line for one of the main characters. I tore through it and had a good time. It is available from the usual e-tailers, or you can buy a DRM-free version from the publisher, Angry Robot.

Love in a Time of Bio-mal by Colum Paget

This dystopian, cyberpunk short story is a fractured tale of a tempestuous relationship, set against the backdrop of a world in which neuro-bio-warfare has ravaged the land. The rich live behind hermetically-sealed walls, while the poorest suffer the worst after-effects of the war, such as rogue bio-mal that can make you age prematurely. The narrator has lost his place in the higher ranks of the society, and with it, the woman who was using him to climb the social ladder. The story starts with an emotional punch as we see the lengths the narrator is willing to go in order to win back his former love, and it does not let up from there.

I enjoyed the whole story, especially the bits about rogue Artificial Intelligence, which I won’t ruin for you by getting into here. Love in a Time of Bio-mal can be found in Electric Spec, Volume 7, Issue 1. Links to more stories can be found at Colum’s blog, The Singularity Sucks.

Diane Duane E-Book Sale

There is a 60% sale on Diane Duane and Peter Morwood’s e-books at their website. It started on 5/8/12 and is going to run until an unspecified time. Their books are DRM-free and you can’t beat this deal. I highly recommend the So You Want to Be a Wizard books.

Up Next on Lithicbee

Sunday: Part Thirteen of The Only City Left. Will the secrets of Allin’s family history be revealed at last? Was the werewolf ghost who was chasing him really his Uncle? Be here on Sunday for Allin Arcady’s adventures through a planet-sized city called Earth!

Webcomics Wednesday: This time around I’ll be focusing on webcomics that sell digital issues you can read on your tablet.

Fiction Friday: 5/4/12


For my latest alliterative day of the week, I present: Fiction Friday, an occasional fearless feature. Okay, enough alliteration. So what is Fiction Friday on the Lithicbee blog? Just me talking about what I’ve been reading lately. It may be a novel by a big-name author or short fiction by an up-and-comer, or anywhere in between. So with no further ado:

Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig

This is the first book from Evil Hat’s new fiction line based on the Spirit of the Century RPG, and the copy I read was a pre-release PDF sent out to Kickstarter backers.  The book promised to be a pulp-filled good time full of jetpacks, dinosaurs, and talking apes, and it did not disappoint. In fact, I can easily say that this is the most fast-paced, fun-filled, inventive book I have read in quite some time.

It starts off with members of the Century Club patrolling a speech that Franklin Delano Roosevelt is giving in front of the Empire State Building. Our intrepid heroes are Jet Black, Mack Silver, and Sally Slick, and they have been notified of an assassination attempt against FDR. Jet is patrolling the skies courtesy of his jetpack (of course). Sally, the inventor who created the jetpack, is sticking close to the President. And Mack is in the audience looking for threats and wishing he were in the cockpit of his plane, Lucy.

Events quickly go egg-shaped when it turns out that the danger is much greater than the Centurions could ever have known. Psychic bipedal dinosaurs show up and try to mind-control the heroes. They barely escape the psychosaurs (Sally gets an assist by the wheelchair-bound FDR) before running into real dinosaurs out of pre-history who  are hell-bent on crushing them.

The story spirals out from there, with talking apes, flying fortresses, Tesla coils, Atlantean artifacts, mystic detectives, sassy flirting, thrills, chills, and more. For all of the hammy pulp dialogue, the characters are all fleshed out pretty well and there wasn’t one in the bunch that I didn’t find myself rooting for. My favorite has to be Professor Khan, the kilt-wearing, British-accented, talking gorilla who must learn to stop living his life entirely in books and, when appropriate, give in to his jungle nature.

I read this book in two days, both because it is a brisk read and because I didn’t want to stop. It is like reading a comic book with the visuals beamed directly into your brain. The end slapped me across the face like a dame I’d done wrong and left me wanting more. As there are two more planned Dinocalypse books by Mr. Wendig, I’ll be on the edge of my seat until the next book is out.

If you want a sneak peek at the first six chapters of Dinocalypse Now, click on the PDF link at Fred Hicks’ blog, but you can take my word for it, this is a great read and worth every penny. You can find Dinocalypse Now at DriveThruFiction, Amazon, Evil Hat’s online store, and eventually at Barnes and Noble (although not at the time of this writing on Thursday evening).

Stone Eater by Brent Knowles

Stone Eater is a short story that can be found in Issue 42 of the webzine Abyss & Apex. Check out this first line: “Ongar stopped eating the pebbles on the eleventh night of his impalement.” It is so concise but manages to intrigue on several levels: “He’s eating what now? Pebbles? And he’s been impaled for eleven days and he’s not dead? I want to know what’s going on!” Well, I won’t spoil the story by revealing the secrets behind that first line, but I can say that the story continues by revealing that Ongar has been tied to a stake facing the tower that he has helped create, his grand masterpiece, which is now being built in ramshackle fashion by an inept overseer. Yes, it’s not the impalement so much that bothers him, it’s being forced to watch someone ruining his creation.

As the story goes on, we learn how Ongar ended up in his predicament and what becomes of him, and the entire story feels very emotionally honest and real for a work of fantasy (as good fantasy should). The world at large is hinted at in such a way that makes this story feel like part of a larger and realistic land that I would be interested in reading more about, but the story itself is nicely self-contained. In other words, this is an ideal short story and makes me want to check out more by the author. To find more information on and stories by Brent Knowles, check out his blog.

Space and Time, Parts 1-9 by Sharon T. Rose

I found the serial SF story Space and Time through the SFstories subreddit on reddit.com. In the first installment, we meet Jegri, a deformed slave girl who uses her cunning to get herself traded to a kinder master in a more comfortable setting. Jegri is a Yerbran, just one of the races of aliens in a galactic coalition called the Mutuality, and she ends up on Fredan Space Station 5. As the series progresses, it becomes clear that Jegri’s new master, the Yerbran Shdr’edno, is a dangerous opponent to have. Outwardly, they are niece and Uncle, since slavery is outlawed in the Mutuality, but beneath the surface, they are playing a game of wits that could have disastrous results for Jegri. She has shamed him by tricking him into taking her into his service, and he is determined to make her life miserable. Their interplay and the question of how Jegri will overcome her role as a slave and best Shdr’endo (for surely she will, right?) is keeping me reading this story.

There is another plotline involving the space station’s human commander and a nearby wormhole that is also shaping up to be interesting. Seems the inhabitants of the wormhole might be holding back a tide of really bad things from elsewhere, and the Mutuality’s increased use of the wormhole as a shortcut could be weakening the barrier.

This story feels a bit familiar: Fredan Space Station 5 and Yerbrans could be seen as a take on Deep Space 9 and Ferengi, and the many types of aliens on a space station story is reminiscent of C.J. Cherryh, but Sharon does make the story her own. The different types of aliens are described well and are not simply two types of earth animals mixed together, for instance. The descriptions of normal Yerbrans and the specific ways in which Jegri is a deformed Yerbran also show that a lot of thought has been put into alien physiology.

There are some sections of the serial that slow me down when reading, such as exposition-heavy sections front-loaded into the story, which might be better served by being spread out more naturally over time. And speaking of time (and space), units of measurement are agonizingly elongated into “Star-Standards,” such as “Star-Standard Measures of Annual Time” instead of year, and “Star-Standard Units of Immediate Distance” instead of, I guess, feet. Granted, with many alien races working together, they will have different definitions of what makes up a second, a minute, a foot, a year. I get that, but perhaps there is a smoother way to handle this.

Those small criticisms aside, I am obviously enjoying the story because I devoured the first nine parts in short order. If you’re looking for some imaginative science-fiction with the promise of fights both small-scale (slave vs. master) and large- (Mutuality vs. world-ending beings from the Void), check out Space and Time!

The Were-Traveler Issue #4

Finally, I have mentioned this webzine before, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that the latest issue went live yesterday and my short story, “Foreign Soil,” is included.

The theme of this issue is Blood Vengeance: Vampyre and the remit was it had to have vampires and revenge, and some kick-ass action. If you like the story, please give it a vote. Thank you!

The header photo is courtesy of balise42 on Flickr. See the full-sized picture here.

Webzines: SF/F/H Markets (3 in a Series)

Searching for quality genre webzines for the latest installment in my Webzines series has been a morbid affair, in that the number of deceased zines I found far outweighs the number of healthy, thriving ones. Despite the high mortality rate, I bring you today another crop of markets for your science-fiction/fantasy/horror stories.

As before, I picked a recent short story from each zine to read to get a basic feel for the types of stories they are looking for, and I will share my thoughts on those as well. (I will read more stories before submitting my own, of course.)

You can visit my Links page for a list of all the webzines I have researched so far.

Strange Horizons is looking for science-fiction and fantasy, not horror or stories with twist endings. (See their Guidelines page for full details on what they want and what they don’t want.) They prefer stories of less than 5,000 words and pay 7¢/word, minimum $50.00. Response time is within 90 days.

For Strange Horizons, I read Beneath Impossible Circumstances by Andrea Kneeland. At its core, this story is about a fractured relationship, but there are hints throughout about the futuristic setting where natural anything, including childbirth, is the exception instead of the rule.

Aphelion accepts short and long SF/F/H stories. See the Submissions page for full details. No mention is made of payment, so it’s safe to assume it’s publication only.

I quite enjoyed Second Suicide by Tim Britto, which is about an alien invasion that is derailed when they discover our arts and entertainment. But will music, paintings, and literature be enough to stave off Earth’s destruction?

FLURB is run by science-fiction author Rudy Rucker and has published stories by big-name authors but still seems to accept and work with new authors. FLURB is published bi-annually and there is no information about submissions for the next issue, but I am including it here because I think it is a webzine worth reading and one to check in on regularly to see if submissions open up.

For FLURB, I read Journey to the Center of the Flat Earth by William Highsmith. As you might suspect based on the title, it is a take on Jules Verne’s classic tale, except in this version, the Earth is a cylinder, not a globe. I couldn’t quite envision how this would play out but enjoyed the story nonetheless. The end of the story was… odd, but interesting.

Planet Magazine accepts short SF & F stories and payment is publication only. See the Submissions page for further details.

From Planet Magazine I read Little Brother, by Gryffyd Eamonn Dempsey. I liked the amount of world-building that Gryffyd managed to pack in to this short story, about a fantasy world where aliens have intruded on royal politics. When the King’s son dies, is it a blessing or a curse that the aliens bring him back to life? As the story shows, it depends on who you ask.

A last note: As you might know, I am writing and releasing parts of a rough draft novel each week, about 1,000 words at a time. It has been a great way to get my creative juices flowing and at the same time, get some of my work out there for people to read. To that end, I found a great site called Tuesday Serial which basically exists to collect weekly serial stories like The Only City Left. I appreciate what they are doing and I encourage you to check it out, whether it is to find a story to read or to submit your own.

Galaxy image courtesy of NASA, via Wikimedia Commons. Writing ball image also from Wikimedia Commons.

Kickstarter Fiction: 4/20/12

Okay, so even though I posted a flash fiction story yesterday to meet a deadline, I still want to have a Friday post. It just feels right. Luckily, there is plenty to discuss in the realm of Kickstarter Fiction, aka The Place Where My Money Goes.

The first thing I should mention is that science-fiction author John Scalzi has opened up a forum on his website where people can post pitches for their crowd-funding projects. He reports that he has up to 50,000 daily visitors, so this could be quite a marketing tool to match up projects with those looking to spend their disposable income.

Next, I would like to say “Congrats!” to the Tales of the Emerald Serpent team for their successful project. As I mentioned before, this is a fantasy shared world anthology, which is pretty much all they needed to tell me to get me to pledge.

Speaking of shared worlds, check out Have Blaster, Will Travel: A Bulldogs! Story Anthology. Like Tales of the Emerald Serpent, these stories are based on an RPG, but this one is billed as “sci-fi that kicks ass.” From the project page: “Have Blaster, Will Travel is an anthology of space opera adventure that follows the Bulldogs, people who signed on with the TransGalaxy interstellar shipping company to run away from the law, the criminals they offended, or a past that haunts them. Inspired by Firefly, Star Wars, and lots of other b-movie sci-fi, Bulldogs tells the stories of those who are desperate enough to take a job hauling volatile and hazardous cargo to the most dangerous places in the galaxy.” Sounds like fun, and very tempting…

I hardly need mention this next project since I have seen it talked about all over the place already, but since I overlooked it in the previous Kickstarter Fiction post, let me redress that wrong here. Tim Byrd has a series of young adult pulp adventure novels starring Doc Wilde and family. It has already surpassed its goal, but with over a week to go, you still have time to get in on the pulp goodness. You can find a sample of the first book here. Doc Wilde is over the top, more perfect than perfect, but this is the exactly the sort of adventure I enjoyed reading as a kid, and since I haven’t really grown up, it is another tempting possibility.

And speaking of pulp goodness, Spirit of the Century Presents: The Dinocalypse Trilogy is now even more of an amazing deal. As of this writing, you can get 7 ebooks and 2 RPG PDFs for $10. Remember, there are psychic dinosaurs, kung fu detectives, and an ape on Mars. Words fail me. If you have not pledged, do so now; the project ends on Sunday.

Sigh. I was going to make a disclaimer at the top of this post about how I am not necessarily backing each project just because I mention it, but writing about the projects made me excited and so I added Have Blaster and Doc Wilde to my list of backed projects. (I already had Dinocalypse, of course!) Don’t tell my wife, okay?